Coulson Whitehead and a megalist of diverse book awards (also, some thoughts)

This year is the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize, and the winning fiction book was the absolutely incredible book The Underground Railroad by Coulson Whitehead. This was probably my favorite book I read last year, and there are passages and images that I remember so vividly. Everyone should read it. You should read it. Talking about it makes me think I should read it again.

coulson whihead

I also listened to part of it on audio-book, and the narrator is amazing. One of the things I love about audio-books is that when they are place specific (in this case, the POV character is a young escaped slave from Georgia), the accent and voice the narrator uses can bring it alive in a way it doesn’t in my head. If audio-books are your thing, this one is worth it.

When I saw the news, and the list of other winners,  I was happy to see the diversity and range of perspectives and stories represented. You can see the full list of winners and the short lists here.


Another highlight in the list is Matthew Desmond’s book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, which I can’t read this year, unless I want to name Matthew as a token white male, which I think I probably will at some point. I had a chance to hear him speak earlier this year, and he is incredible, humble and so committed to his work and his cause (OK, he is really handsome too…) I am happy he won, but more importantly, I hope people read his book, and listen to his call to action. This is not one of those books that talks about how messed up things are and does not give solutions. He used the profits of the book to start Just Shelter, a non-profit that connects people who need help, or who want to help with organizations working towards housing equality on the local and national level.

On Awards

I have mixed feelings about book award lists. I love them for the fact that they add to my already infinitely long reading list. I love hearing about books I might love from people I trust and book prizes act as that trustworthy source. I know that when I pick up a book that has won an award it most likely will not be a waste of my time.

On the other hand, I am also aware that a disproportionate number of the books on these lists are written by white men, even when you look at the breakdown of who is writing books and who gets awarded. As a science fiction lover, the recent issues surrounding the Hugo awards (for more information, WIRED has a good article that you can read here) have highlighted this and confirmed by suspicion that the nomination systems for these awards are often faulty. Even when I see awards go to people like Coulson Whitehead, I am aware of the fact that most winners of this prize have been white men, and the other two finalists this year were a white men, and a white women whose pen name is C. E. Morgan, which I can only imagine is so that she can write about sports and still get men to read her books.

The thing I want to end on however, is my love of awards like the Coretta Scott King award that actively seek alternative perspectives. As I started to write this post, I was going to just post a list of some of the bigger awards I know of. However, as I started to research I was incredibly surprised the fact that most of these lists only talk about children’s book awards. So I started to dig and dig, and before I knew it I was compiling the list below, which is, as far as I can tell, the only list of diverse (mostly) English language book awards for adults.

For a comprehensive list of children’s and young adult book awards, you can go HERE.

Diverse book awards for adults

By Ethnicity

Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature: Most recent winner –  The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Arab American Book Award: Most recent winner – A Curious Land: Stories from Home, by Susan Muaddi Darraj

NAACP Image Awards: Most recent winner – The Book of Harlan, by Bernice McFadden

The National Jewish Book Award: Most recent winner – The Gustav Sonata, by Rose Tremain

Canadian Jewish Literary Award: Most recent winner – The Mystics of Mile End, by Sigal Samuel

Hispanic Heritage Award For Literature: It is hard to find the list, but last year’s winner was Junot Diaz, and other authors who have received the award are Julia Alvarez, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Luis Valdez, Isabel Allende, Nicholasa Mohr, Gary Soto, Oscar Hijuelos, and Denise Chavez

The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards (for books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism): Most recent winner – The Association of Small Bombs, by Karan Mahajan and The Fortunes, by Peter Ho Davies

Burt Award for First Nations, Inuit & Métis Literature (Canadian award): Most recent winner – The Outside Circle, by Patti LaBoucane-Benson, illustrated by Kelly Mellings

By Gender/Sexual Orientation

Stonewall Book Award (for books that relate to the LBGTQ experience): Most recent winner – Desert Boys, by Chris McCormick

Lambda Literary Award (to celebrate excellence in LGBTQ publishing): There is no main fiction category here, because it is broken down further, but the list is worth a look!

Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction: Most recent winner – The Glorious Heresies, by Lisa McInerney

Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize (to American female authors): Most recent winner – In the Country, by Mia Alvar

Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ Emerging Writers: Most recent winner – Leah Horlick, author of Riot Lung and For Your Own Good

Pat Lowther Award (poetry by Canadian women): The Wrong Cat by Lorna Crozier

International Awards and Translations

Etisalat Prize For Literature (debut African authors):  Most recent winner – Tram 83, by Fiston Mwanza Mujila (from Congo)

OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature: Most recent winner – The Pain Tree, by Olive Senior

DSC Prize for South Asian Literature: Most recent winner – Sleeping on Jupiter, by Anuradha Roy

The Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation: Most recent winner – The Bamboo Stalk, by Saud Alsanousi, translated by Jonathan Wright

Best Translated Book Award: Most recent winner – Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman

Soroptimist International Leeds Literary Prize (for unpublished fiction written by Black and Asian women resident in the UK): Most recent winner – Marmite and Mango Chutney, by Amita Murray

Sunday Times Literary Awards (South America): Hunger Eats a Man, by Nkosinathi Sithole

Special Mentions

The Native Writers Circle of the Americas – The only literary award for Native Americans. Currently only does lifetime achievement awards (in 2015, the award went to Diane Glancy). However, their website states that they are looking for funding to reinstate their First Book award, which is given to new and emerging Native American Authors.

PEN America Literary Awards: A few different prizes are awarded by PEN America each year, including a translation prize, a “multicultural” award, and the Open Book award for authors of color. Check out the full list of winners on their site!

The International Rubery Award: (Not explicitly diverse, but recognizes self published and indie books): Most recent winner – Echoes, by Laura Tisdall

2 thoughts on “Coulson Whitehead and a megalist of diverse book awards (also, some thoughts)

  1. Wow, Emma, thank you for this one….I, as you know, LOVED the Underground Railroad and it has stuck with me in a profound way and I DID listen…
    I especially appreciate the awards perspective you shared and the lists!!! Thank you!!!! Glad you are having a break from school and work, so you can do this!!!


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